Play­ing a blinder over Brexit

In real life, leav­ing the EU isn’t a bar­rel of laughs. For­tu­nately, it’s dif­fer­ent on the stage, writes Tim Corn­well

The Scotsman - - Fringe Reviews -

THE­ATRE Brexit

Plea­sance Court­yard (Venue 33)

The Laird’s Big Breaxit

Scot­tish Sto­ry­telling Cen­tre (Venue 30)

Di­ary of an Ex­pat

Un­der­belly, Cow­gate (Venue 61)

CABARET& VA­RI­ETY Jonny Woo’s All Star Brexit Cabaret

Assem­bly Ge­orge Square Gar­dens (Venue 3)

If satiris­ing Bri­tain’s han­dling of the Brexit process is like shoot­ing fish in a bar­rel, then Brexit at the Plea­sance slays and serves a shoal of fine black cod stuffed and grilled with those tasty lit­tle squares of crunchy skin.

It’s Down­ing Street, 2020: the new Tory Prime Min­is­ter Adam Masters is pick­ing min­is­ters for Brexit and trade, still try­ing to re­ally nail down those ne­go­ti­a­tions with Europe at the same time as jug­gling leavers, re­main­ers, and re­join­ers in a restive party barely held to­gether by its loathing for the “mods and rock­ers” of the Labour benches.

In other words, noth­ing has changed. In a foray to Brus­sels, in what be­comes a clever fram­ing de­vice, Masters – The Archers star Tim Bentinck – pleads with the vamp­ish, Merkel-like EU chief ne­go­tia­tor to give him a break. De­li­ciously de­liv­ered by Jo Caulfield, she com­pares the Bri­tish ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion to “My Favourite Things” from The Sound of Mu­sic – taunt­ing him with whiskers on kit­tens, and warm woollen mit­tens, as he gloomily con­sid­ers the chance of “do­ing a Nor­way”.

At home, Mike Mc­shane is the PM’S foil, his cam­paign man­ager and em­i­nence grise of Brexit pol­i­tics, a murky, multi-lay­ered po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tor, both fool and con­science to the king. In the new cab­i­net the high Brex­i­teer MP Si­mon Cavendish (Hal Crut­ten­den) and re­mainer Diana Purdy (Pippa Evans) find com­mon cause in top­pling the PM’S game of po­lit­i­cal Jenga; the ex­tremes com­bine to at­tack the mid­dle.

Past shows by writ­ers Robert Khan and Tom Salin­sky in­clude the Fringe hit Coali­tion, and the script has won­der­ful throw-away lines. Bentick’s il­lus­tri­ous CV in­cludes The Thick of

It, but this has more the sly re­alpoli­tik of Yes, Prime Min­is­ter, as his pledge to ride off in “full steam re­verse” sees his hubris un­rav­el­ling, with not even the dis­trac­tion of a same-sex royal wed­ding to

save the day.

There’s a plau­si­ble the­ory here – that the Brexit process might de­scend into a fre­netic in­er­tia, liv­ing off Bri­tish love of po­lit­i­cal am­bi­gu­ity. While there’s a cer­tain as­sump­tion that Brexit is the stuff of farce, this show is not po­lit­i­cal polemic. The pointed ob­ser­va­tion that the ref­er­en­dum re­sult saw many Bri­tish es­tab­lish­ments lose brought a hush to the the­atre.

Gussie Mc­craig is trem­bling with red-faced out­rage in his tweed and red cor­duroys, in his one­man turn at the podium in The Laird’s Big Breaxit. From “Perth-shire”, as he pro­nounces it, he is brief­ing the Stags’ Club on a new pa­tri­otic ef­fort to rally the

ru­ral econ­omy, with hunt­ing with hounds, and other al­lit­er­a­tions. With his own­brand whisky on the ta­ble and heather on the podium, he puts the “rrrr” back in Br­rrexit, fix­ing us with a squir­rel eye and a stam­mer, yet once his blue blood is up, he can be puff­in­gly per­sua­sive.

The plot twists in this one­man pas­tiche of the Scot­tish Brex­i­teer are oc­ca­sion­ally un­sub­tle – do­mes­tic tragedy, sur­rep­ti­tious bursts of big­otry, sex­ual in­ad­e­quacy, fun­nier hinted at than spelled out – but Gussie, played by Christo­pher Craig, is a one­man blast of sim­ple plea­sure, and can only get fun­nier. He has com­pletely mas­tered this char­ac­ter, in this piece writ­ten by Don­ald Smith, with a look and tone that’s de­li­cious to watch. I badly want to see him back again; Gussie could run and run. If you are seek­ing an af­ter­dinner speaker to stir all True Blue pa­tri­ots, look no fur­ther.

Were Gussie ever to meet his neme­sis, in the fig­ure of Ce­cilia Grag­nani, he’d be bowled right over. Di­ary of an Ex­pat is based on the ac­tress’s own ar­rival in Bri­tain in 2007, a sweet ex­po­sure of an im­mi­grant’s dream of Bri­tain. She comes armed with the Life in the UK Hand­book, the text for the Life in the UK test for per­ma­nent res­i­dents. And yes, it does in­clude that ques­tion on the Trossachs.

Ce­cilia tells of her star­ryeyed

jour­ney to the El Do­rado across the Chan­nel, to the re­al­ity of ser­vice jobs and tiny rooms in the most dan­ger­ous ar­eas of Lon­don. But she loves it here, from her first sausage roll, to the real mean­ing of “lovely”, to her glot­tal-stop­ping Bri­tish lover. Caught wist­fully like any im­mi­grant be­tween her old home and her new, this “chubby Ital­ian” with the faintest mid­dleeu­ro­pean ac­cent just wants to be Bri­tish. Di­rected by Katha­rina Reinthaller, the show is sup­ported by a fund set up in the mem­ory of the young Ital­ian cou­ple who died in each other’s arms in the Gren­fell Tow­ers.

There is a faint Weimar feel to Di­ary of an Ex­pat; a pass­ing era of Euro­pean tol­er­ance un­der threat. That Cabaret feel is served up in spades in Jonny Woo’s All Star Brexit Cabaret. Here’s the full Rodgers and Ham­mer­stein’s Sound of Brexit, with a bit of Eva Peron chucked in. Jonny Woo, co­me­dian and drag queen, had me at ‘Hello’, from se­quins to the lay­ers of Union Jack tutu. He in­jected The Leaver’s Lul­laby with all the pas­sion of Julie An­drews. The show is com­posed by Richard Thomas, of Jerry Springer the Opera fame, no­table for the Oh Sh*t lament and some won­der­ful multi-part num­bers.

This piece doesn’t project Brexit for­ward, like the play at Plea­sance, so feels

frac­tion­ally dated. It makes a nod to the pol­i­tics of both sides, but leaves that ques­tion-mark over whether the 52 per­cent might be march­ing to dif­fer­ent tunes. But Woo and friends belt it out un­stop­pably: Jer­sey Boy Adam Per­chard, trag­i­cally soul­ful as The First Time Voter, torn be­tween two lovers. Sooz Kemp­ner is in mag­nif­i­cent voice, singing Cameron Shy, with a cho­rus of pigs. Both Le Gateau Cho­co­lat as Nigel Farage and Kevin Davies are in ex­cel­lent form, the lat­ter play­ing both a slick-suited Brex­i­teer and a per­sua­sive in­tel­lec­tual Re­mainer. An­gela Merkel, an in­evitable char­ac­ter in any Brexit drama, is played by Carla Lip­pis singing Mama Euro­vi­sion.

If Brexit lives up to some of the warn­ings now em­a­nat­ing from West­min­ster, and the business com­mu­nity – jobs shocks in the City, five-mile lorry queues, civil un­rest or short­ages of food or medicines – there may be a dif­fer­ent tone to Brexit shows next year. But for now the Fringe is a safer place for the Brexit dis­cus­sion too tired for the din­ner ta­ble. Th­ese Brexit dra­mas all de­liv­ered won­der­fully in their own way. If we can’t make Bri­tain great again, we can at least make it funny.

Brexit un­til 26 Au­gust, to­day 1:30pm; The Laird’s Big Breaxit un­til 27 Au­gust, to­day 1:30pm; Di­ary of an Ex­pat un­til 26 Au­gust, to­day 1pm; Jonny Woo’s All Star Cabaret un­til 27 Au­gus, to­day 6pm.

Above left: Ce­cilia Grag­nani’s Di­ary of an Ex­pat; above right: Jonny Woo’s All Star Brexit Cabaret; be­low left: Brexit

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